Jim Breech was on familiar turf, enjoying a slow stroll down memory lane.
He visited old haunts and embraced friends he hadn’t seen in decades, comparing stories and belt sizes.
On Friday, Breech toured Sacramento High School, eyeing the tattered practice field and the outlying buildings and marveling at the upgrades and polish on the Oak Park campus.
Breech spoke to students about his rise from three-sport star at Sac High in the early 1970s who landed an 11th-hour scholarship to Cal to his 14 seasons as a kicker in the NFL. He kicked in two Super Bowls with the Cincinnati Bengals, and he still holds the team’s career scoring record (1,151 points).
During his NFL career, Breech refused to be bound by limitations.
“Look at me,” Breech told the students Friday. “I’m all of 5-foot-6, and I was 155 pounds when I was here. I’ve got a lot more on me now, but a guy once told me when I was a kid that I’d never make it in football. I didn’t like that. Don’t let anyone ever determine your outcome. Without this school, without Dave Hotell, who knows where my life would have taken me.”
Hotell, the great Dragons coach of the 1970s and early ’80s, recognized that Breech could compete. He quarterbacked the Dragons to the 1972 Metro League championship, but he knew his college hopes were rooted in his cannon leg. But there was a problem; he had only one field-goal attempt as a senior because of an injured quadriceps. Hotell reached out to Cal coaches, urging them to take a peek at the little guy with the big leg. Breech drove the family car to Berkeley for an audition, but he was told what the Bears really needed was linemen – and did he know of any?
It wasn’t until summer that Cal offered him a kicking scholarship, but only after El Camino’s Butch Edge turned down his offer; the pitching phenom instead signed with the Milwaukee Brewers after being selected in the first round of the draft.
“I was hoping to get drafted in baseball, my first love, but that didn’t happen,” Breech said. “So now what? Where would I be without that break? I would’ve had a totally different life. I’m forever appreciative of what Sac High and coach Hotell did for me.”
Breech played for Cal’s 1975 Pacific-8 Conference co-championship team that featured All-Americans Joe Roth and Chuck Muncie. When members of that team gathered at Cal on Saturday for a reunion, it was the first time Breech, who lives in Cincinnati, had been to Berkeley since he was inducted into Cal’s athletics Hall of Fame in 1999.
Roth, a quarterback, died of melanoma in 1977, just weeks after his second season at Cal, and Muncie died of a heart attack in 2013.
Roth’s battle against cancer inspired Cal players and fans, and a documentary of his life, “Don’t Quit,” was released last year.
“Roth was amazing, and I get chills just talking about him,” Breech told me earlier Friday. “It’s so sad what he went through. I was with him at a Cal basketball game when he had to leave for a doctor’s appointment, and I think that’s when he found out how serious his situation was. But he kept going, kept fighting, kept going to class. He’s the most selfless guy I’ve ever met.”
Breech stressed to the Sac High students to appreciate everything they have – their school, teachers, teammates, coaches, family and friends – and that they shouldn’t look too far ahead. Football players mentioned Breech’s inspiring words before routing rival Burbank 56-20 on Saturday to win only the school’s second Metro title since 1972.
“People ask me what were the biggest games I played in, and certainly the two Super Bowls against the 49ers are there,” Breech said. “So were the Big Games against Stanford. But a top-five game for me has to be 1973 against Christian Brothers. We played them at Hughes Stadium, 14,000 people, and won 16-13. There’s nothing like playing high school sports, so enjoy it.”
Breech then presented the team with an NFL-issued gold football to commemorate the 50th Super Bowl, to be played at Levi’s Stadium. The ball includes Breech’s name and his two Super Bowl appearances.
Breech was mobbed by adoring students, one saying, “Man, dude used to be just like us, just a normal high school kid.”